Guilty plea on child abuse

An Indianapolis man was sentenced to four years in prison and four years on probation after being charged with hurting his 4-month-old daughter, causing brain and skull injuries.

Joseph Kowalchick, 31, 5226 Grapevine Drive, pleaded guilty to battery resulting in serious injury to a person under 14 years old last week after an incident in August 2014. Kowalchick was watching his daughter and his 2-year-old stepdaughter at their Edinburgh home when police say Kowalchick hurt the infant, he said.

Kowalchick initially told police he accidentally knocked the 4-month-old off the couch and onto the floor, and later told Department of Child Services workers he tripped over the baby, according to the police report. Later, Kowalchick told police officers that he threw the baby against the couch.

The baby was taken to Johnson Memorial Hospital, then transferred to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis. At the time, doctors found serious injuries, including two types of brain hemorrhages and bleeding in the eyes that can occur when babies are shaken, according to the police report.

More than a year later, Kowalchick told Johnson County Circuit Court Judge Mark Loyd he does not know why or how he hurt his daughter.

“I just can’t believe I did that to my own daughter,” Kowalchick said.

The last thing Kowalchick remembers about that day was changing his daughter’s clothes, then seeing her on the floor, needing CPR, he said.

Kowalchick told the judge that in the days after his arrest, he had multiple flashbacks to holding his friend as he died while they were in combat while serving overseas, he said. Kowalchick told the court he served four years in the Marine Corps from 2002 to 2006, serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said.

Kowalchick could have faced up to 16 years in prison. Deputy prosecutor Ryan Bland asked for nine years in prison, but Kowalchick’s attorney Andrew Baldwin asked for no more than five years in prison.

Although Kowalchick will be serving at least four years in prison, the baby’s grandmother, Vera Olmstead, thinks he should have received a longer sentence, she said.

“We needed justice,” Olmstead said. “Something’s wrong with the system.”

The girl, now 16 months old, has since made a full recovery, Olmstead said.

But a number of developmental issues could show up later, such as vision or reading issues, Bland said.

Kowalchick was ordered by the state last year not to contact the child. Kowalchick has since signed over his parental rights, and his wife has sole custody.